April 06, 2009
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
By my count, there are five teams on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff spots. Those teams are St. Louis, Minnesota and Edmonton in the West, fighting for one, or maaaaybe two slots; and Florida and Buffalo in the East, fighting the Rangers for the eighth spot.
All are still mathematically able to climb higher than that, but let's be realistic: They almost certainly won't. However, since I am a hockey expert (a claim for which I have no backing whatsoever, so please just take my word for it), I will offer one tip to each team in the hopes of increasing their playoff chances.
Florida, which is currently tied with the Rangers with 89 points, but by virtue of having just 39 wins compared to the Rangers' 40, they are technically in ninth place. What the Panthers need to do now is simple: stop losing to teams like Atlanta. If you can beat Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you should be able to not-lose to the Thrashers, who are objectively awful. Another hint would be to continue to not do whatever it was you did for the previous decade or whatever.
(Bonus tip: The Rangers are playing badly enough that you might sneak in just by virtue of hanging around, though. Score!)
[Coming Up: An Oilers fan protest rally fizzles; Sam Gagner's(notes) incredible goal; why Tim Thomas(notes) remains Puck Daddy's obsession between the pipes; and Corey Perry(notes) molests another San Jose goalie.]
St. Louis has 86 points and, like Florida, is tied for eighth place. My suggestion to them is to simply show up for the remaining games on the schedule, since they have one each with Phoenix and Colorado. The Blue Jackets game in the middle might prove a little dicey, but you're basically looking at four guaranteed points from the get-go.
As for the other two teams out west, Minnesota and Edmonton, both have 83 points. Minnesota's road to the playoffs is simple enough to map out: quadruple-shift Marian Gaborik(notes). That's why you didn't trade him at the deadline! Make him play 60 minutes a night for each of your four remaining games. It will work. Trust me on this.
And Edmonton, this is a little trick I learned from "The Simpsons." There was this one time where Homer had to go look for Marge because she and a new neighbor had taken off in a stolen car. Bart suggested that he and Lisa did not need a babysitter, which prompted Homer to dig into his pocket and find a card that read, "Always do opposite of what Bart says." If the Oilers write a similar mantra on their gloves and look at it whenever Craig MacTavish tries to coach them, they should be fine.
Lastly, for Buffalo, which has 85 points and sits four back of the next-closest teams, and my suggestion is simple: Forget it. With games left against the Red Wings, Maple Leafs, Bruins and Hurricanes, you're finished.
Hope this helps, guys.
What We Learned
With a combined three goals and five assists in Saturday's 5-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion: what San Jose coach Todd McLellan called a "flat-out dominant" performance: the three have totaled 14 goals and 32 points over the past six games entering a Sunday night rematch with the Sharks at Honda Center.
And in that Sunday night Sharks game, they scored another 1-1-2 between them. Yikes. They're a huge, and maybe the only, reason the Ducks are surging back into the Western Conference playoff picture, going 10-3-0 since March 11.
Atlanta Thrashers: Prior to their game against the Caps on Sunday, the Thrashers had won five games in a row and six of the last seven, almost all of which were against teams that were battling for a playoff spot.
Thrashers LIST OF PLAYOFF CARNAGE for March and April
Montreal: Lost 2-0 and Won 6-3
NY Rangers: Lost in SO 5-4
Panthers: Won 4-3, Lost 3-1
Buffalo: Lost in SO 4-3, Lost in OT 3-2
Edmonton: Lost in OT 4-3
Really, this is just another thing the Thrashers are bad at: tanking it for a lottery pick. Right now they're in danger of not finishing in the bottom four of the East.
Boston Bruins: While watching the Rangers/Bruins game on Saturday, I saw the Sean Avery(notes)/Tim Thomas thing, then I saw Thomas' quote about the incident on G-Dubs' post yesterday and it made me love him even more. (I'll bold the important part, then italicize the VERY important part for you.)
"It's an unwritten rule that nothing happens during the TV timeout," said Thomas, who was stretching when Avery pulled his hit-and-run stunt. "I'm stretching there, Avery comes by, and I get hit in the head with a stick. You look up and see who it is. You've got to be kidding me. It was just reflex. The battling during the game? I have no problem with that. I actually like the way he plays around the net. He's tenacious. He gets in right around the crease but he's not doing anything illegal. I have no problem with that. But there are lines that you can't cross. He seems to have a hard time figuring out where those lines are."
How can YOU not like Sean Avery if Tim freakin' Thomas is coo de la with Avery under circumstances not directly involving violence being visited upon him? Tim Thomas is what we should all aspire to be, especially now that he's rich and will soon live in a gold rocket house in addition to being the Official Goalie of Puck Daddy. So go easy on Avery.
Clarke MacArthur scored the Sabres second goal last night, giving him five goals in his last seven games. MacArthur increased his season total to 17 goals scored and is starting to prove himself as an offensive player.
The guy has almost as many goals in 70 games this season as he did points in his previous two partial NHL seasons (22 in 56 career games). He might be the next "Who IS this guy?" forward that scores 75 points out of nowhere that the Sabres always seem to come up with.
Calgary Flames: The picture of Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) that accompanies this story perfectly sums up how every Flames fan should feel about the last 14 games, in which Calgary has won just five times and seen their division lead evaporate from 13 points to zero.
Know how I know, by the way, that the Flames' chances of winning the division are done like dinner? Vancouver, which is tied with Calgary for the division lead, closes the season with Calgary, Los Angeles and Colorado. They'll probably get at least four points from those games. Calgary, on the other hand, hosts Los Angeles and travels to Vancouver on back-to-back nights, then has a home-and-home with Edmonton, also on back-to-back nights. Calgary is 5-5-1 in the first game of back-to-backs this year, and 2-8-1 in the second game.
Like I said: Done.
Carolina Hurricanes: This week's Life-Affirming Hurricane Thought -- Cam Ward(notes) has been flat-out amazing in this stretch the 'Canes have going for themselves. He's allowed more than two goals just once (when he somehow gave up four on 32 shots against the Islanders), and Carolina still won.
And it's not like the defense has helped him out at all. He has allowed just 17 goals in eight games, all wins, on 273 shots. That's an average of more than 34 shots against per game, and his stats are still 2.11/.945. Wow. He is the ONLY reason the Canes are going to make the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks: The way things are shaking out right now, it seems like the Flames are going to lose the Northwest and will finish either fourth or fifth in the West. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have already lost the Central and will, barring an incredible run from the Blue Jackets, finish fourth or fifth.
Thus, Calgary and Chicago are very likely to play each other in the first round of the playoffs. Good news for Blackhawk fans: Chicago went 4-0-0 against Calgary in the regular season and scored five-plus goals in three of those.
Second City Hockey, not surprisingly, is fine with this scenario.
Colorado Avalanche: Adrian Dater put up a lengthy post the other day wondering who should replace Francois Giguere as the Avs' general manager when/if he gets fired (and he should). Dater thinks, probably correctly, that the job should go to old GM Pierre Lecroix, but if he doesn't want the job, it would go to... Craig Billington?
I don't care how well Garth Snow has been doing on the Island, teams really need to stop letting backup goalies become GMs.
Perhaps the best thought on the matter came in the first comment, left by a fellow named Jerry:
"...please someone from outside the organization, we need a fresh set of eyes on this."
Columbus Blue Jackets: After all the hullabaloo and hoo-hah and kerfuffle over the Blue Jackets calling up Nikita Filatov(notes) while he and the Syracuse Crunch were in the thick of a playoff race down in the AHL, it remains a real dick move to make him a healthy scratch in his first game back up with the Beejays.
But then came worse news: Kristian Huselius(notes) was unable to play on Sunday, and instead of letting Filatov get a game in against a good opponent, with whom the Blue Jackets are fighting for the No. 4 or 5 spot in the West, they gave Andrew Murray(notes), he of 20 points in 104 career games, a go.
Howson probably did it just to be a jerk.
Dallas Stars: Don't let anyone tell you any different; it was goaltending, not injuries, that cost the Stars a playoff spot. Between Marty Turco(notes) and backups Tobias Stephan(notes) and Matt Climie(notes), Dallas' goaltending allowed 55 goals in their last 16 games, an average of nearly 3.5 goals against per game. Only Detroit averages more goals for per game than that, so it's not like Dallas was going to put up that kind of goal total to stay competitive.
Osgood's been struggling with his worst goals-against average (3.17) and save percentage (.884) in his 15-year career.
Backup Ty Conklin(notes) (2.50, .910) has been statistically superior, but has played in only one playoff game in his career while Osgood has appeared in 106 and been part of three Stanley Cup champions.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers fans were going to make a big stand. A Facebook group called "Fire Craig MacTavish" was organizing a rally outside Rexall Place ahead of yesterday's game with the Canucks, which, incidentally, the Oilers won.
According to Saturday's Edmonton Sun, the group was gaining about two members a minute yesterday afternoon.
Less than 10 fans showed up. Oops. So much for youth in revolt.
Florida Panthers: It's a little surprising that the Panthers went 3-1-0 with Tomas Vokoun(notes) on the sidelines, and not at all surprising that they beat the red-hot Penguins now that Vokoun back in the crease.
Biggest news of the day is the return of one Tomas Vokoun to the pipes tomorrow. Vokoun has sat out the past four games, with Craig Anderson(notes) sparking the Panthers to three wins. DeBo says Anderson didn't lose the gig last night, and thought he played well. But, Vokoun ''is our money guy.''
I'll say. He made 41 saves in his first game back, which Florida won 4-2.
Los Angeles Kings: Brian Boyle(notes), a first-round pick in 2006, certainly had a very good night for the Kings on Saturday. Two goals in the first period. Doubled his season total and now he has three in his last four games. Terry Murray liked what he saw.
"Boyle needs to show the kind of game he showed tonight," Murray said. "Take away the two goals: Show the intensity, show the board play, show the pursuit. Make plays. He needs to be that player, play with an attitude. Then the talent comes out."
The same night, 2007's fourth overall pick, Thomas Hickey(notes), scored his first professional goal for Manchester, and his fourth point in three AHL games. So things are looking okay for next year in LA.
Minnesota Wild: It's easy to forget, but Marian Gaborik is unbelievable.
If he were healthy all the time, people would talk about him like they do Alexander Ovechkin(notes) or Evgeni Malkin(notes) or Sidney Crosby(notes). He's that good. He's played 14 games this year and only the last few have been while he was healthy. He still has 10 goals and 15 points. Since he came back from his latest injury on March 22, he's netted 8-3-11 in eight games, including a goal against Detroit yesterday. This despite his most frequent linemates being James Sheppard(notes) (21 points in 78 games) and Stephane Veilleux(notes) (22 points in 77 games) up until a few games ago.
Whoever signs him next year (not Minnesota!) is going to get a ridiculously talented player, probably at below market value. I legitimately feel bad that he can't stay healthy. A guy like him playing 75 or 80 games a year would be awesome for whatever market he's in.
Montreal Canadiens: Yeah, the Habs won big over the Leafs on Saturday, but the result, which helped the Canadiens claw closer to actually securing a playoff spot (as of Sunday night, it's 99 percent certain), but the win might not have been worth the price they had to pay.
Defenceman Mathieu Schneider(notes), a key cog in the PP, left after the first period with an unspecified upper-body injury following a hit by Leafs' Brad May(notes). And former Canadien Mikhail Grabovski(notes) drove Habs defenceman Andrei Markov(notes) face-first into the glass with 7:03 left to play. Markov, clearly shaken up and helped off the ice, did not return. But CBC's Elliotte Friedman said he made it to the dressing room under his own power, throwing his stick in anger en route.
If memory serves, the Habs' power play was abysmal before they traded for Schneider and has been much better since. If he's out for any length of time in the playoffs, they're going out in a hurry.
Nashville Predators: Gotta give Jason Arnott(notes) this much: He plays the game with no regard for his personal wellbeing. He got a concussion on March 10 and, in his first game back on Saturday, scored twice and added an assist to help resolidify the Preds' playoff hopes. On top of that, he spent much of the game around the crease and along the boards. It was honestly like he'd never missed a game.
New Jersey Devils: Are Devils fans still worried that their team is losing too often lately (despite winning two in a row, even if those games were against Tampa and Buffalo)? Worry no more: Scott Clemmensen is BACK!
In 40 games with the Devils earlier this season while Martin Brodeur(notes) was injured, Clemmensen went 25-13-1 with a. 2.39 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Because he was on emergency recall, he had to be sent back down to Lowell on Feb. 25 when Brodeur was activated from injured reserve.
One need only look at the respective winning percentages of New Jersey's two goalies (65.1 for Clemmensen, and a paltry 66.1 for Brodeur, the alleged "best goalie ever") to see which one the Devs should 86 at the end of the season. Clemmensen can be had for bargain-basement prices!
Islanders fans everywhere know that the team's offense has been in shambles, especially after losing the likes of Alexei Yashin(notes), Ryan Smyth(notes), Jason Blake(notes), Tom Poti(notes) and Viktor Kozlov(notes) a few years ago, but for the first time in team history, the Islanders are in danger of being without a 20-goal scorer.
It's remarkably sad when someone is sitting around pining for the days of Yashin and Poti.
But Sather---again as has been chronicled previously here and elsewhere---has snagged the Rangers in the salary-cap web with no-trade and no movement clauses and will be hard-pressed to free up significant space this summer without a major deal.
So, onto the biggest week of the season. Amazing that it's become this gruesome since Prague and October and the 10-2-1 start, which, as it turns out, was an illusion. Although by December, that was pretty clear.[/quote]
The good news is that the Rangers have no one worth signing to re-up in the offseason that won't be a low-cost RFA (well, Nikolai Zherdev(notes), I guess). But they're only at $42.1 or so against the cap, so that's not so bad. Oh wait, that's with only 13 players signed? Never mind.
Ottawa Senators: Apparently, Bryan Murray was extremely close to blowing up the Sens roster if the boys didn't respond to the firing of Craig Hartsburg positively.
"When I got fired, Bryan (Murray) told me, 'The direction of the team is not where I wanted it to be and we're at the point where we have to embarrass the players. I hope it embarrasses the players because this is the last chance. If they don't (respond), we have to blow the team up.' They've put a lot of money into a lot of players. I'm sure that's the message they've conveyed to the players. It's the last kind of wake-up call for a group of players."
So the Sens, who have won as many games (17) under Cory Clouston in 30 tries as they did under Hartsburg in 48, basically all saved their jobs and kept the core together. I guess it depends on your perspective as to whether or not that's a good thing.
Philadelphia Flyers: If the Bullies want to square away home ice of their own accord, they have to take seven of the final eight available points. Otherwise they're sitting around and hoping Pittsburgh and Carolina falter in their last few games. It is, however, not impossible given the strength of their competition down the stretch.
The Flyers can clinch the fourth seed _ and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs _ if they go 3-0-1 in their last four games. The Flyers play host to Florida Tuesday, play on the road against the Rangers on Thursday and against the Islanders on Saturday, then conclude the regular season by hosting the Rangers on Easter Sunday.
That's four eminently winnable games right there. By contrast, the Pens close at Florida, at Tampa, vs. the Islanders and at Montreal, and the Hurricanes have the Islanders and the Sabres in Raleigh, then close the season at New Jersey.
Phoenix Coyotes: Frightening hockey look-alikes: The fourth and worst Staal brother, Jared, who signed with Phoenix and is playing for their AHL affiliate in San Antonio, looks exactly like a young Dion Phaneuf(notes) with rosacea.
Poor fella. No two people should have to walk around looking like Phaneuf.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin is really going out of his way to make this Art Ross race interesting. In the last seven games for both Malkin and Ovechkin, Malkin has 2-4-6 (obviously off his pace of 1.37 points per game) and Ovie has 6-10-16 (well ahead of his 1.39 points per game pace). Interestingly, both teams have four wins in those seven games, but the Caps have an extra overtime loss.
San Jose Sharks: I really hope Anaheim and San Jose play each other in the postseason. They are really not on good terms right now. Recall Corey Perry kicking Evgeni Nabokov(notes) a few weeks ago, then watch this video from the end of the game last night, which the Sharks won 3-2 (thank god).
"I'm feeling better and better . ... it feels good," Berglund said before the game. "I was a little slow on my starts (in the morning practice). But other than that, it felt OK."
Andy Murray still wasn't impressed with his favorite whipping boy. Just 14:41 of ice time and only one shift in overtime for Berglund, one of the most skilled players on the team.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have actually used 21 defensemen this year. Lightning Strikes points out that the Elias Sports Bureau found out this is an NHL record. I struggled to think of 10 of them, and two of the ones I thought of are no longer with the organization.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Here's maybe the most ludicrous boarding call of the season, and somehow Mikhail Grabovski got thrown out of the game for it:
Uhhh, what? Pension Plan Puppets, of course, points out that Bob Gainey's take on the play ("I felt it was a little bit late. We've had an ongoing problem with Grabovski this year. He's been suspended once. Markov was vulnerable. We hope it doesn't turn up as an injury that will keep him from playing.") is idiotic. They are not wrong.
Vancouver Canucks: Have a look at the absolute BEATING "Rippin'"Rick Rypien lays on Zach Stortini.
Can't hug your way outta that one, Stortini.
Washington Capitals: Here's something that I thought got completely overlooked in the whole Ovechkin-meets-LeBron thing is that Nicklas Backstrom(notes) was there too. And LeBron couldn't have cared less.
Leonsis: I'm Ted Leonsis, nice to see you. This is Alex Ovechkin.
LeBron: What's up Prime Time? What's going on, man?
Leonsis: This is Nicklas Backstrom.
LeBron: Aight, how you doing, good.
Ovechkin: "Prime Time." Backstrom: "Aight." That made me laugh for 20 minutes.
Play of the Weekend
Much as it pains me to credit the Oilers for anything, this goal by Sam Gagner was really quite something:
Takeaway in his own zone, through the neutral zone at 3/4 speed, steps around Willie Mitchell(notes) like he's not even there, beats one of the best goalies in the league (on his 30th birthday, no less) inside out after he identifies that Luongo overcommitted to a perimeter shot.
That's heads-up hockey in three zones. And that's beautiful.
Gold Star Award
The aforementioned Mr. Gagner (three points) and TJ Galiardi(notes) (two goals, plus-3) will split the award this week, because both were instrumental in holding Vancouver without a win this weekend. Since my beloved Flames are trying to win the division against the Canucks, I gave them this highly coveted award. Yes, it’s shallow and kinda weak on my part, but it’s also my award to give, and I give it to whomever I like.
Minus of the Weekend
Any time someone brightens the chances of my seeing the Ducks in additional games this year, I immediately like them a whole lot less. Case in point: Evgeni Nabokov, who gave up five goals on 28 shots in a 5-2 San Jose loss to Anaheim on Saturday night.
Boo this man.
Next week's game I'm totally going to watch on Center Ice if I'm home
Watch as two sub-mediocre teams fight for their playoff lives now that the Panthers seem to have remembered they're not bad at hockey. Canadiens! Rangers! Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Event that should replace the shootout and would be just as relevant to hockey skill
Movie of the Week
Woody Allen's best film: "Manhattan." If you haven't seen it, run out right now and rent it or buy it or put it in your Netflix queue, because seriously, it's phenomenal.
Perfect HFBoards trade proposal of the week
A nice simple one this week. From user "oilersfan87" comes an absolute gem:
User "powerthirst" adds this insight:
I know some Habs fans will kill me for saying this but that's probably not enough to get Vinny...